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the yay to the nay

Back-to-Preschool Clothes Shopping: The Yay to the Nay

By Ilana Wiles

the yay to the nayThis post was an undertaking because when it comes to shopping for my two-year-old’s clothes, I normally go to one store, buy a season worth of stuff and call it a day. But for the purposes of this post, I tried five different stores, shopped almost exclusively online and worked with a budget of $50 at each one.

I found the $50 budget per store really tough and in the end, I don’t recommend shopping around for your preschooler. It’s much easier to buy a crapload of clothes at one reasonably-priced store and then supplement with a few special items elsewhere. Plus, you will spend way less money if you don’t know everything that is out there.

So, I will be highlighting what I bought for my $50 budget, but also telling you what you can get for around $150 at each store, in case you want to do all your shopping in one place. Make sense?

Please keep in mind, I was shopping for a soon to be three-year-old girl so all items were picked according to her (and my) taste.

I will be judging the purchases on quality, style/selection, price and online shopping experience.


1) Old Navy Kids

back to school toddler clothes shopping

Old Navy is a great store for basics at extremely reasonable prices. The clothing is not of the highest quality out there but it is certainly sufficient for a toddler who will be wearing it all of one season. Plus, we plan on passing several of Mazzy’s Old Navy clothes down to her soon-to-be little sister (less than 3 months away!) which is in perfectly good condition after tons of wear. The clothing always feels trendy without being too overdone, comes almost exclusively in cotton materials and is perfect for active play.

A large portion of Mazzy’s wardrobe always comes from Old Navy, but this was my first experience shopping online. I found it incredibly easy to navigate, especially since it is linked up with Baby Gap so you can shop for them both at once in one cart. You can buy your kid’s entire back-to-school wardrobe by combining the two shops— basics from Old Navy and peppering in a few items from Baby Gap.

For my budget of $50, I was able to get 5 items. I bought the Paris t-shirt ($8), the black and white striped leggings ($9), the pink striped dress ($11), the red pants ($10) and the t-shirt with the bow on it ($13) for a total of $51. (Had I used a $150 budget just there, I would have gotten the 12 pieces above).

Quality: YAY
Style/ Selection: YAY
Price: YAY
Online Experience: YAY

2. Baby Gap

back to school toddler clothes shopping

Next, I shopped at Baby Gap since I could so conveniently share the same online shopping cart with Old Navy. Although the quality is consistently very good, I find Baby Gap to be hit or miss as their style changes drastically from season to season and it’s super specific. At the moment, it is a lot of leopard print which I find really ridiculous looking on a toddler. They also seemed to have a lot of dresses that looked more appropriate for your first day at the office than your first day of preschool. (I didn’t reflect those clothes above because I am only featuring items that I considered purchasing.)

The online experience was great— everything was easy to find and loaded quickly— but there were ultimately not a lot of items I was interested in that were worth the price differential from Old Navy. But I caveat this with saying, I could walk into Baby Gap a month from now when the style will have changed and I could feel completely different.

I also want to point out that, in my opinion, Baby Gap sells the best jeans for toddlers. They are a little more expensive but well worth it. Jeans from less expensive stores don’t fit my toddler daughter nearly as well.

For my budget of $50, I bought 2 items (though could have gotten 3): the peacock long sleeve tee ($10) and the flared jeans ($30) for a total of $40. I could have squeezed another $10 t-shirt in there but I honestly wasn’t thrilled with any of them.  (Had I used a $150 budget just there, I would have bought the above 6 pieces and still been over by $10)

Quality: YAY
Style/ Selection: NAY
Price: OKAY
Online Experience: YAY

3. Target

back to school toddler clothes shopping

As popular as Target is in most of the country, the only location in Manhattan is at 117th St. I rarely go farther uptown than 23rd so I have actually never been inside it. But, since so many people speak so highly of their kids’ clothing selection, I decided to test out their store online.

Let me just say— the clothing may be cute but my online experience was HORRIFIC. With Old Navy and Baby Gap, I was able to keep my shopping cart for an unlimited amount of time but with Target, I left it idle for too long so it deleted my items. Even more frustrating, it waited until I had completed check out, given my credit card information, and hit “Place Order” before it thought to tell me. And it wasn’t just a re-login— all my items had disappeared. If it wasn’t for this post, I never would have gone back and did it over.

What made this re-selection even more annoying is that I found the site difficult to navigate. It took me a while to realize that preschool clothing is actually in “Baby” and not “Girls”. And the summer clothes are mixed in with fall items, the “tops” tab includes blouses, t-shirts, sweaters and cardigans, the play dresses are mixed in with the fancy dresses, so this all makes it challenging to find what you are looking for. Plus, the selection is so large that it’s impossible to see everything. On top of that, a large number of the items had “Image not available” boxes (at least five on each page) so I had no idea what I was missing out on. And there were tons of cute items pictured that were only available in-store or out-of-stock.

When I checked out for the second time, a window popped up that said I had “agreed to take” a survey. I had done no such thing but since I was so annoyed with the experience I decided to let them know. I went through a rather lengthy bunch of questions and answers, both multiple choice and fill-in the blank for more detailed comments, that spanned many pages. Then when I submitted my critique, to add insult to injury, a second window popped up telling me “our website survey is temporarily unavailable”. AAARGH!!!!!!

As far as the quality of the clothes, it varies depending on who makes them as Target sells many different brands. The style is cute but everything seems to have a few more bows/frills/flowers than the clothes I usually select for my daughter.

For my $50 budget, I got 4 items— the gold bubble skirt ($14), the ballerina long sleeve t-shirt ($8), the pink cardigan ($14), and the denim jeggings ($15) for a total of $51. I considered getting the green and pink dress but the site didn’t say what the fabric was (velvet? cotton? It’s a big difference!) so I passed. (Had I used a $150 budget just here, it would have bought the 11 pieces above).

Quality: OKAY
Style/Selection: OKAY
Price: YAY
Online Experience: NAY

4. Zara Kids

back to school toddler clothes shopping

The kid’s clothes at Zara are gorgeous but a little pricey for a preschooler. I always use Zara as the perfect store to pepper in a few special high-quality items, which I tend to gravitate towards in Mazzy’s closet, over and over again.

What surprised me most about my shopping comparison is that its prices aren’t that dissimilar to Baby Gap which I have always considered much more reasonable.

The online experience was okay. Nothing as bad as Target but not nearly as easy as Old Navy/Baby Gap. It has a more fashion-y vibe straight from logging in, with big pictures of child models and music, which can get a bit annoying if you just want to make a quick online purchase. Also, I was prompted to log-in again multiple times even though I hadn’t left my computer. Additionally, once you fill your cart, you can’t click on the items to see the details again, so you have to go back to the beginning and locate the item if you want a closer look.

For my $50 budget, I opted for one item— the floral dress ($43) because I totally fell in love with it. (A $150 budget used only at Zara Kids, would have bought me the 6 pieces above).

The dress arrived yesterday and Mazzy tried it on. Unfortunately, it is one of those dresses that is connected to a slip at the shoulders so it is difficult to put on. Mazzy adored it anyway and declared it “perfect.” Then she wanted to eat yogurt so I made her take it off which resulted in a power struggle. This is the problem when you mix nice clothes and toddlers.

Quality: YAY
Style/Selection: YAY
Price: NAY
Online Experience: OKAY

6. H&M Kids

back to school toddler clothes shopping

The most important thing to note about the H&M Kids online shopping experience is that it does not exist (Update: H&M Kids is now available online). You must go to the store to purchase. But if you find the time, it will be well worth it, I assure you.

H&M Kids mixes basics with some trendier items and everything is available for ridiculously low prices: $5 cotton play dresses, $10 cardigans in a myriad of colors, $15 dresses that feel just the right amount of special but you won’t feel the need to rip it off, should your child want to eat a carton of yogurt (ahem).

For my $50 budget, I got 5 items— the purple cotton playdress ($5), the green cardigan with the bird applique ($18), the cotton floral dress ($15), the birthday hat tee ($6), and the purple cardigan ($10) for a total of $54. (Had I used a $150 budget just here, I would have bought the 14 pieces above and gone over by $8).

Quality: YAY
Style/Selection: YAY
Price: YAY
Online Experience: Not applicable Now available.

I hope this was helpful and that you have a successful back-to-school (or first-time-to-school) shopping experience. Please report back! (And feel free to defend Target to the death— I know you want to.)

Published August 24, 2012. Last updated July 22, 2014.
About the Author

Ilana Wiles

Ilana Wiles writes Mommy Shorts, a popular NYC humor blog geared towards new parents. In addition to blogging, Ilana has worked as a creative in advertisin...

Ilana Wiles writes Mommy Shorts, a popular NYC humor blog geared towards new parents. In addition to blogging, Ilana has worked as a creative in advertising for the past 15 years. She lives in the East Village of NYC with her husband, her two-year-old daughter and a rapidly growing pile of stuffed animals.

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